On the morning of April 27, 2011, I awakened to tornado sirens, which is nothing extraordinary for residents in Birmingham, Alabama. Rather than rush to the basement, I spent twenty minutes debating whether to rouse my still sleeping family, until the winds died down and it seemed as if the storm had passed. For those of us not directly affected though, that morning burst (which struck the neighboring Cahaba Heights community, killing one and injuring twenty) was just a taste of what was in store. By the end of the day, the state had endured one of the most severe tornado outbreaks ever recorded, with more than sixty tornados contributing to more than 240 deaths. Economic losses from the event exceeded $4 billion.
When we the editors of NR&E first came up with the idea of an issue dedicated to Extreme Weather and the legal issues related to it, the events affecting my community were still relatively fresh. (The Southeast, it seems, has had its share in recent years, considering hurricane activity alone.) So too was the cold-weather event that slammed the Southwest in February 2011, causing service losses to approximately 4.4 million electricity customers and 50,000 gas customers. Then a snowstorm slammed the Northeast over Halloween weekend 2011, leaving more than 3 million people across ten states without electricity, many for extended periods. (This on the heels of Hurricane Irene, which resulted in power outages for more than 6.5 million people across fourteen states.) Then the Mid-Atlantic was surprised by a series of severe thunderstorms and derechos (sustained, straight-line winds) in late June of this year, which caused twenty-two deaths and more than 3.5 million people to lose power across nine states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, vast majorities of the United States continue to cope with drought conditions that are causing billions in insurance losses (for the second consecutive year, and evoking memories of 1980 and 1988) and increased food prices.
Unless the Mayans were right, this ride does not appear to be stopping anytime soon. With that in mind, we offer a collection of articles designed to probe the intersection of Extreme Weather and the Law. Our lead article explores considerations in corporate emergency response planning. A series of articles includes many practical examples and illustrations that certain practitioners may find particularly useful: the role of insurance in protecting against extreme weather damage; the use of alternative dispute resolution in climate- and weather-related cases; and extreme weather considerations in the development of power project transactions. Three articles examine extreme weather and its influence on evolving areas in the energy arena: the development of offshore wind facilities; drilling activities; and the quickly converging natural gas and electricity markets. Finally, this issue includes an article exploring the use of the common law public trust doctrine as a means to regulate climate affecting agents such as greenhouse gases.
The weather, of course, is ubiquitous—the cliché conversation starter. But after reading this issue, NR&E believes you will find discussion about the weather wanting. In today’s time, it is not about whether you need your umbrella or your coat. It’s whether the weather should prompt a call to you or your client.